100,000 New citizen scientists join oxford researchers in penguin research project

Penguinologist Dr. Tom Hart Shares Successes from 2014.15 Research Voyage

Quark Expeditions, the world's leading polar expedition company, is pleased to share successes from expert-in-residence penguinologist and University of Oxford researcher Dr. Tom Hart, founder/lead on the Antarctic research project Penguin Watch. Dr. Hart journeyed to Antarctica with Quark Expeditions as part of the Scientist-in-Residence Program to maintain his equipment, observe penguin colonies, and collect penguin feathers for "feather printing," a type of penguin DNA and isotope-testing process.

Penguin Watch is an initiative that examines the reasons for declines in the penguin population worldwide and takes steps to remedy the issue. A collaborative effort between Oxford University, ZSL, Oceanites, Stony Brook, the British Antarctic Survey and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Penguin Watch has placed approximately 60 cameras recording around half a million penguins around Antarctica. The initiative is in a state of growth and welcomes new participants from around the globe.

Penguin Watch Cameras Track and Monitor Penguin Populations

Still images from Penguin Watch cameras are uploaded to the PenguinWatch.org website, which currently houses over 2 million images. Volunteers then tag and classify penguins in the images, which helps researchers count the penguins but also teaches the algorithm to identify penguins so that one day, much of the labor-intensive process may be automated.

The ability to observe and track penguins in their natural habitat is critical, said Dr. Hart, who spent close to three-and-a-half months in Antarctica recently, traveling with Quark Expeditions on board the Scotia Arc and Antarctic Explorer expeditions.  Having cameras stationed across Antarctica allows them to capture simultaneous, highly accurate data from more locations than anyone else in the world. Their huge volunteer program helps the researchers extract and interpret data incredibly rapidly and with each image tagged five times, with a reasonable degree of accuracy, as well.

Researchers Collect South Sandwich Islands Data; Land at Point Wild

This season in Antarctica marked a number of achievements for the Penguin Watch project, including:

  • Researchers successfully landed at South Sandwich Islands (home to a large population of Chinstrap and Adelie penguins) and were able to collect genetic material and gather a camera placed on their first landing, marking the first occasion breeding data has been collected from the islands.
  • The team landed successfully at Point Wild, previously known as Cape Wild and so named after Frank Wild, the leader of the party from Sir Ernest Shackleton's expedition The Endurance, who camped on the point for four months in 1916 prior to their rescue. While there, they were able to place their first camera in the area to monitor Chinstraps.

Dr. Hart refers to the Penguin Watch volunteers as 'Citizen Scientists' and says the project would not be possible without them.

"PenguinWatch.org has over 15,000 registered users and has welcomed over 1.5 million visitors since our launch," said Dr. Tom Hart. "Our Citizen Scientist contest, sponsored by Quark Expeditions, has helped raise awareness about this important initiative and inspired an additional 100,000 brand new visitors to come to the site and check out Penguin Watch, so we're obviously very grateful for that."

'Citizen Scientists' Can Win Antarctic Expedition to Observe Penguins

The Penguin Watch Citizen Scientist contest launched on World Penguin day, April 25th, 2015, and invites people the world over to make a personal contribution to penguin conservation by tagging penguins in the still images on PenguinWatch.org. Participants are entered for a chance to win an 11-day Antarctic Explorer: Discovering the 7th Continent voyage to view penguins in their natural habitat, courtesy of Quark Expeditions.

Until May 25, each day that a registered user tags at least 10 Penguin Watch photos, they receive a contest entry. Interested persons are invited to create a Zooniverse account and start tagging penguins on the Penguin Watch website to earn their first contest entry.

About Quark Expeditions

For 25 years, Quark Expeditions has been the leading provider of polar adventure travel. With its diverse fleet of specially equipped vessels, unique land-based adventures and seasoned expedition leaders, it offers travelers unparalleled access to the most remote regions on earth: the Arctic and Antarctica. In 2013, Quark Expeditions was voted “World’s Leading Polar Expedition Operator” by the World Travel Awards™, received the “Blow the Budget” award from the Amadeus & World Travel Awards™ Travel Experience Awards and was named one of National Geographic Traveler’s 50 Tours of a Lifetime for its “Three Arctic Islands” voyage. In 2014 it earned “World’s Leading Specialist Cruise Line” designation by the prestigious World Travel Awards™. 

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